Wednesday, 20 October 2010


Last night I got round to watching another episode of Whites. I watched the first episode a while ago. Then downloaded another on iPlayer which expired before I got a chance to see it. Then last night I watched Episode 4.

What I like about Whites is that I believe it. It feels like a real kitchen and that the characters really are who they say they are - even though they are all very familiar faces. One could argue they are too familiar. But then who wouldn't want Alan Davies, Darren Boyd and Katherine Parkinson in their sitcom? They are fine comedy actors - as are the others. But let's be honest: it's a non-audience show, shot on location, so there's no excuse for it not being believable, although it does happen occasionally.

If you read the last post on this blog, it wouldn't surprise you to learn that overall, I didn't really go for Whites. It didn't make my wife laugh at all, although I chuckled on a number of occasions. But Whites is part of this enormous raft of non-audience comedy programmes that have been broadcast recently - Rev, Him and Her, Grandma's House, Roger and Val and now Whites. All of these shows are all good in their way, although not all to my taste.

But the fact that they are non-audience seems to provide some kind of safety net. Because they are well-shot and directed, filmed on locations and played out like dramas, with jokes in them at various intervals (you be the judge of how often), they don't make one cringe in a way that an audience comedy can. If one took the last five audience comedies and compared them, the failure rate would be much higher, certainly in the opinion of our beloved critics. But the hits would also register higher too, I think.

The believability issue is crucial. Sometimes audience comedies shot in studios with contructed sets just aren't believable, parodied rather brutally (and unfairly) in When the Whistle Blows (why does Gervais do this? Anyone?) But, as I often point out, if the jokes are there and done in the right way by the right character, the audience don't care. They know that the IT department in the IT Crowd isn't real. But they don't care because they love Moss and Roy and Jen. When they do believe the situation and premise and you have great characters and jokes like in the Office, you have the makings of a real hit on your hands. When the jokes misfire and we don't take the characters to our hearts, it's like watching a car crash. Strangely, it's hard to spot this in the studio, where there is a closeness and a bonhomie that gives you little indication of whether you have a hit on your hands or not. It's only when you sit down at home, and the show starts up and you watch your work that you have any indication of whether the show will be a success.

The fact that the show was non-audience meant they could get away with the fact that Episode 4 was the 'Health and Safety Inspector' episode. It's surprising that given the characters and calibre of actor that the Inspector Card needs to be played quite so early in the game. I have to admit I was disappointed by this - even though cleanliness is obviously a critical facet of the kitchen's operation. But in this instance, there was a decent pay-off, in someone pretending to have Parkinson's in front of someone who's dad has actually Parkinson's is pleasingly morbidly funny.

My final comment is on the creative choice of the show at the start with the central character. Kitchens are famously hot and angry places. Celebrity chefs are famously monstrous. I understand why Whites has decided to subvert this in order to be creatively more interesting and surprising. But it may have been funnier to have had a total monster since they are funnier and can be very interesting. (See also Gordon Ramsay, Gregory House MD and Brian Clough...)

I'd be interested to hear the thoughts of others on this show.


  1. "why does Gervais do this? Anyone?"

    Because he considers The Office to have kicked off the non-audience sitcom boom in the UK and therefore the "older" form is seen as targetworthy?

  2. Katharine Parkinson's character doesn't get enough of a look-in. The IT crowd gives Jen as many knock-out lines as Roy and Moss. In Whites, not much more is required of her than a gentle simper. It would feel better if there was less of that Skoose (sp?) guy, who brings a weirdly inappropriate air of malevolence to the show, and more of Parkinson than mooning over hunky guys. #alexrjmurphy